Christmas magic returns to Milner Gardens and Woodland

Milner Christmas Magic features more than half a kilometre of lighted pathways at the seaside garden.
Vancouver Island University photo

Outdoor festival of lights runs Fridays to Sundays during the first three weeks of December.

The garden paths and buildings at Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Milner Gardens & Woodland will twinkle and glow with thousands of lights during Milner Christmas Magic this holiday season.

After cancelling last year’s event due to COVID restrictions, the annual outdoor festival of lights is back.

“I’m thrilled we are able to welcome our community back again for a chance to walk through the Christmas lights and to help everyone get in a festive spirit,” says Geoff Ball, Executive Director of Milner Gardens & Woodland.

Attendees can stroll through more than half a kilometre of lighted paths, shop for Christmas gifts at the Gingerbread Gift shop, enjoy hot beverages and food at the outdoor refreshment stand and stop for a photo-op at Santa’s Sleigh. People posting their photos on social media are encouraged to use the hashtag, #MilnerChristmasMagic. Visitors can also drop off their letters to Santa in the North Pole mailbox onsite. Milner’s house and cottage will be closed, but a series of lights and festive holiday displays will be visible through the windows. Masks are required for entry to the Gingerbread Gift Shop.

Milner Christmas Magic runs Fridays to Sundays during the first three weeks of December – Dec. 3-5, 10-12 and 17-19 – from 5-8 pm, with viewing up until 8:30 pm. Admittance is by a suggested donation of $5 for adults, $2.50 for children and $12 for a family (two adults and up to three children under 19 years). A shuttle cart service for people with accessibility and mobility needs is available between the Welcome & Interpretive Centre, Gingerbread House Gift Shop, Gardener’s Cottage and Milner House.

Milner Christmas Magic is a fundraiser for Milner Gardens & Woodland, a seaside garden in Qualicum Beach, located at 2179 Island Highway West. For more information about the event please visit the Milner Christmas Magic Tips and Suggestions website.

If required, any weather closures will be posted online on the Milner Gardens’ special events website, Facebook page and Twitter feed. Milner Christmas Magic’s 2021 presenting sponsor is Windsor Plywood.




University adopts five-year strategic plan

Vancouver Island University has a new Strategic Plan, People, Place, Potential, to guide its activities over the next five years.

Throughout 2020, VIU reached out to students, alumni, employees and the wider community to hear their views on the University’s strengths and their vision for its future. The strategic planning process has led to a new Strategic Plan for 2021-26, which will help VIU build an even more powerful experience for students. 

The new Strategic Plan grew out of the consultation with more than 2,000 people, who shared their thoughts about what makes VIU unique. As a result, VIU commits to continuing its personal connection with learners and affirms its relationship to this place and its cultural, social, economic and environmental roots. The new Strategic Plan reaffirms VIU’s commitment to access, to ensure the realization of the potential of all learners.  

“The Strategic Plan will help us chart the course to become the University we want to be. The Strategic Plan will guide our decision making, ensuring strong stewardship of our resources,” explains Dr. Deborah Saucier, VIU President and Vice-Chancellor. “Building on our strengths, VIU envisions a unique educational experience that is more accessible, more inclusive and more deeply rooted in community.”

The plan includes three core values – People, Place and Potential – and six commitments for the next five years:

  •  Welcome a larger and more diverse population of learners;
  • Become a more inclusive and healthier place for work and study;
  • Grow to be the region’s hub for research and expertise;
  • Build stronger partnerships with Indigenous communities;
  • Become a leader in learning for new generations; and
  • Expand life-enriching and career-building experiences 

The Strategic Plan is the result of the commitment and creativity of VIU’s on-campus and off-campus communities. The consultation process launched in March 2020, just two weeks before the move online, and included in-person meetings, email, surveys, Zoom videoconferencing and an online engagement platform. 

“The plan wouldn’t have been possible without that participation,” says Saucier. “The ideas and stories from our communities allowed us to focus on what matters most to VIU. The result is a strategic direction that will guide us into the future.”

To learn more, and view the draft plan, visit or watch the video.

VIU video project acknowledges Nanaimo soldiers’ contributions to the First and Second World Wars

Nanaimo Remembers is a video memorial project spearheaded by Vancouver Island University in collaboration with Nanaimo Community Archives. Check it out at various locations across Nanaimo and on VIU’s YouTube channel.Vancouver Island University photo

November 1, 2021 – A video memorial project that aims to tell a piece of the story of the lives of the Nanaimo soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice during the First and Second World Wars will be displayed across the city November 1 -11, 2021. 

For the 11 days leading up to Remembrance Day, the Nanaimo Remembers project will display the names of more than 200 soldiers in prominent locations across the city. The names have been obtained from the Dallas Square Cenotaph in downtown Nanaimo and a special section highlights the contributions of local Indigenous soldiers, thanks to research conducted by Vancouver Island University (VIU) Elder-in-Residence Geraldine Manson.

The project, which launched in 2018, was spearheaded by VIU’s Communications and External Affairs and Brand and Marketing teams in collaboration with the University’s Canadian Letters and Images Project (CLIP) and Nanaimo Community Archives. Nanaimo Remembers grew out of a desire to localize a project VIU participated in for many years – The World Remembers, a display tribute to soldiers across the world who lost their lives in the Great War.

“The names in this project are all connected to Nanaimo in some manner, and deserve to be remembered by the community,” says Dr. Stephen Davies, Director of the Canadian Letters and Images Project. “Working with community partners and organizations, VIU is able to ensure that these individuals become more than merely names on the cenotaph.”

Information shared about each soldier, where available, includes their name, rank and battalion, when they died and at what age, where they were buried, their occupation, and their connection to Nanaimo.

The video presentation will run continuously from November 1 – 11, 2020, on the large screen in the Welcome Centre (Building 300 at VIU’s Nanaimo campus). It will also be played on screens at several locations in the community on varying dates: 

  • Through the Nanaimo-Ladysmith Public Schools’ website, social media accounts and at participating schools;
  • At the Harbourfront and Nanaimo North locations of the Vancouver Island Regional Library;
  • At the Nanaimo Museum; and
  • At the Port Theatre.

Check out the project at one of the participating locations above or visit VIU’s YouTube channel

VIU invites public to experience university life

Experience VIU 2021 

 Saturday, October 2, 2021, 9 am to 2 pm

Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) virtual open house event happens this Saturday (October 2) and includes a $1,000 tuition prize giveaway, video tour of Deep Bay Marine Field Station, a chance to talk with program chairs and downloadable resources. 

Experience VIU is for anyone interested in learning more about post-secondary and how VIU can help them achieve their career goals. This includes those still in high school as well as those who have been out of school for a while and are now looking to further their education. This free online event allows people to participate from wherever they are in the world, while the live chats allow participants to get their specific questions answered.

This informative and fun drop-in event includes opportunities to chat one-on-one with recruiters, who can answer your questions about programs, student resources and how to pay for school; videos (including a virtual tour of our Deep Bay Marine Field Station that features all the critters that call it home); and downloadable resources. Participants can enter to win a range of prizes and VIU swag, including a $1,000 tuition credit prize for domestic students. Other highlights include:

  • Q&A events hosted by our Engineering, Science and Technology and Education programs;
  • A live parent session for those who want to learn how to better support their learners; and
  • Mini lectures, including by our Geography, Anthropology and Master of Community Planning programs:
    • The Climate Emergency: What you should know, and why.
    • The Anthropological Adventure.
    • Who Plans the City? All about Community Planning at VIU.

 International students will be able to learn more about what it’s like to live on Vancouver Island, accommodation options, immigration, admission requirements and more.  

Check out this video to learn more, or visit the Experience VIU registration page to sign up.

VIU hosts virtual event to showcase graduate programs

Vancouver Island University offers a first online Graduate Programs Expo on Sept. 15. for students contemplating the next step in their post-secondary careers.  

Graduate programs build on what students learned in undergraduate degrees and are more highly specialized in a particular area of study. VIU has a range of graduate options to choose from, from master’s degrees, to advanced diplomas, to certificates, to enhance the education students have already received and help propel them into the next step in their careers.

At the expo, attendees will be able to:

  • Meet instructors and ask questions about the graduate programs they are interested in;
  • Learn about support services such as scholarships, internships and research opportunities;
  • Get a real sense of what grad school is like and how it’s different from undergraduate programs;
  • Receive advice on what to consider if you are thinking about graduate school;
  • Go through an overview of the graduate school application process.

The event is hosted through an online event platform called PheedLoop that allows participants to scan the different program booths and visit with faculty to learn more about programs, much like walking into an in-person conference room. Participants will be automatically entered into a contest to win a $1,000 tuition credit towards their fall 2022 semester tuition.

To learn more or register, visit the Eventbrite registration link.

Vancouver Island University ready to rock

Students connect with peer mentors, staff and faculty to get to know VIU at RockVIU. / Vancouver Island University photo

ROCK VIU – New student orientation is under way until Sept. 3 and includes a mix of virtual and in-person events and activities.

After a year and a half of online learning for many, Vancouver Island University (VIU) is gearing up to welcome more students back to campus this fall.

With two cohorts of students who have never set foot on VIU campuses before – both first-year and many second-year students – the RockVIU: New Student Orientation committee has been hard at work organizing two weeks of welcome back events to get students connected to services, supports, their professors and each other. 

“This year our focus is on easing the transition back to in-person classes after a year of learning online,” says student Maria Clemotte, RockVIU Co-Event Lead. “We are starting off the first week with a chance for new and second-year students to make connections with third- and fourth-year students, who can answer any questions they have about what it’s like to be a VIU student, as well as chances to meet staff and learn more about what supports are available to them.”

The events, organized by the Office of Co-Curricular Engagement and Learning, began on August 23, when students have the chance to connect with peer mentors and have their questions answered in online Beach Fire Chat sessions. There will also be small-group excursions on the Nanaimo campus that include chances to interact with services all over the campus and participate in activities together.

Week two is an action-packed week filled with events to help students meet other students, their faculty and get familiar with student services. In-person events include VIU’s Got Talent, an outdoor movie and pizza night, and a Connect Fair Festival and barbecue. Students are also organizing an interactive art exhibition, during which peers can view visual art and dance performances that reflect what the past year of online learning has been like and contribute their hopes and dreams to the first-ever RockVIU Time Capsule.

Online sessions include the opening ceremony, question and answer panels, student experience talks, virtual campus adventure and even a session for parents who want to know a bit more about VIU and how to better support their learner.

The online events will be recorded and accessible for students to watch on their own schedules through the VIU Co-Curricular Involvement App, which can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play store or accessed on a desktop via

“This past year has been a transitional year for many students and RockVIU 2021 is designed to welcome students back in a meaningful and respectful way,” says Omar Karim, Coordinator and Manager of the Office of Co-curricular Engagement and Learning. “This is your chance to build relationships with your campus community, make new friends and start feeling a bit more comfortable with returning to campus and how to access services to navigate university life.”

The presenting partner for RockVIU 2021 is Panago Pizza. For more information, visit the Rock VIU website.

Photo Caption: Students connect with peer mentors, staff and faculty to get to know VIU at RockVIU. Photo Credit: Vancouver Island University

VIU researcher investigates hospital design elements

Dr. Lindsay McCunn
VIU Photo

A VIU researcher is surveying Island Health employees working in Cowichan District Hospital to understand what physical architectural features make a difference in their work satisfaction and well-being.

0520 - Vancouver Island University (VIU) Psychology Professor Dr. Lindsay McCunn is working with Island Health on a research project that could help the hospital replacement planning team consider which design features to incorporate into the new Cowichan District Hospital, which is expected to open in 2026. 

The research project is a long-term commitment that invited employees working at the current hospital to participate in a survey to determine which architectural elements and design features they associate with aspects of employee satisfaction, well-being, productivity and more. After the new hospital is built, employees will be surveyed again to measure the effect of included architectural features.

“Providing safe, high quality care for patients is our top priority,” says Deanna Fourt, Director of Sustainability and Business Continuity for Island Health. “Creating a positive working environment is one of the many ways we can support staff to maintain their safety and well-being at work, and improve the hospital experience for all. We are pleased to be partnering with Lindsay, and look forward to the opportunity to incorporate her leading-edge research into this exciting capital project.”

This research capitalizes on the rare opportunity of being able to ask employees questions prior to construction. McCunn, who specializes in environmental psychology – a relatively new sub-field of psychology that examines the transactions between individuals and their physical settings, says it’s unique to have a study underway this far in advance to get a picture of what design elements resonate with users.

McCunn, along with three undergraduate research assistants in her Environmental Psychology Research Lab, have recently surveyed employees at the existing Cowichan District Hospital to determine current levels of the staff’s feeling of commitment to the organization, perceived productivity, well-being, and their pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours within their workplace. Staff were also asked to describe what physical features in the hospital contribute to their sense of engagement and reduced stress on the job.

“Often, research that connects an environment to behaviours is done retroactively and building users are asked how they feel about working in a setting after it has been designed. But that kind of research relies on peoples’ memories, which can include errors and biases. The study with Island Health has a better methodology that allows us to measure how staff feel in both buildings, with less reliance on memory, because we are surveying them before and after they move into the new hospital,” says McCunn.

The survey asks employees questions about what physical features make a difference in their work satisfaction and also examines how people perceive environmental features that offer a sense of privacy, social interaction, social cohesion, safety and security, air quality, lighting, and so on. Findings from the survey will be shared with Island Health project team to enhance the team’s understanding of what features are important to staff for environmental sustainability.

“We understand a lot about how we interact with each other socially in psychology but sometimes it’s more difficult to understand what attributes of a physical environment contribute to those relationships and the feeling you have in a place,” says McCunn, adding that design features can also influence people’s behaviour at work and their attitudes toward the environment.

Fourt says there are numerous environmental elements taken into account when designing a new hospital, including targeting LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certification. Many elements of the LEED® Gold Certification aim to improve the well-being and experience for the people inside the building. Some of the features that directly affect staff are storage and collection of recyclables, indoor air quality, places of respite and access to daylight.

Another element that might also be important is just having a pleasant place to take a break outside. Outside the scope of McCunn’s research project, Island Health will undertake a process to ensure patients and family caregivers have the opportunity to provide input into many important aspects of the new hospital.

“We want to make sure employees have a number of spaces that they can access to find some respite, privacy and a place to feel restored,” says McCunn. “That happens with things like biophilic design – where natural patterns and organic shapes and nature-based attributes – come in.”

Natural design elements can have restorative effects on people’s attention and mood, she adds. McCunn received VIU’s Explore Grant and Innovate Grant to undertake this work.


Portal Magazine marks 30 years of literary excellence

For 30 years Portal, Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) nationally distributed literary magazine, has amplified the voices of emerging writers and showcased the works of up-and-coming illustrators, photographers and artists.

Portal is hosting a Zoom virtual launch on Friday, April 30, 7-9 pm, to celebrate its 30th anniversary, expanded, 108-page full-colour edition, featuring contributor readings, a slideshow, recognition of faculty and awards.

This year’s issue pays homage to the past while also charting a new course for a more diverse and inclusive future. The magazine has a renewed mandate and website, which features an inclusivity statement and a commitment to have an annual Portfolio Spotlight section showcasing underrepresented voices.

“There was a concerted effort to address the cultural moment we’re in, with respect to the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racist initiatives. There was an emphasis on trying to put our money where our mouth is and not just pay lip service to these ideas, but put them into practice,” says Joy Gugeler, a VIU Creative Writing and Journalism Professor and the magazine’s Publisher. “We are trying to reach out to every population on campus to welcome them into the pages of Portal, not just as contributors, but as members of the class and masthead.”

The 30th anniversary edition is the largest yet, with four special-edition features, including profiles on three Portal alumnae Jessica Key, Sarah Corsie and Meagan Dyer; an in-depth interview with VIU’s 2020-21 Gustafson Distinguished Poet Lillian Allen; and a discussion with staff from literary magazines Fiddlehead, Prism and The New Quarterly about how literary magazines function as the frontline workers of the publishing industry.

In the fourth special feature, a Portfolio Spotlight, “Raising the Spirits: Speaking To and For the Dead Across Cultures,” three contributors – Danielle Minnis, Gabriel Villasmil and Kesu Beaton – share pieces about cultural traditions in the Bahamas, Venezuela, and Tla'amin and Lil’wat Nations.

Portal Co-Managing Editor Kiara Strijack is proud of the range of pieces included in this edition.

“It’s really rewarding to see how all the fantastic poetry, scripts, fiction, non-fiction, and special features have developed through the editing process,” says Strijack. “I’m very excited about this issue.”

Strijack said the team faced unique challenges assembling this year’s edition because of the pandemic, putting the magazine together through Zoom and emails.

“There were a lot of email check-ins just to keep things organized and make sure people were managing in the online environment under time and personal pressures, mental health checks to make sure it was a supportive and healthy space,” says Strijack.

Gugeler says the students showed remarkable tenacity and determination this year.

“It was really a testament to how human we can be with each other despite a screen between us,” she says. “The teamwork was more concerted than in previous years. Perhaps they overcompensated because they were in little black boxes on Zoom and didn’t see each other face-to-face every week, but I felt a sense of loyalty to each other and to the magazine, a real congeniality and professionalism, that I hadn’t seen in previous classes to the same extent.”

To learn more visit Portal magazine’s websiteFacebook pageInstagram or Twitter accounts.

VIU and city sign agreement to collaborate

0419 - Nanaimo City Council and Vancouver Island University (VIU), announced the signing of a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") between the City of Nanaimo and VIU.  

Under the terms of the MOU, the City and VIU, will work together to:

* Establish a framework for collaboration between the two organizations;
* Adopt a cooperative approach to working together for the mutual benefit of the City and VIU, the students and broader community;
* Pursue areas of common strategic interest; 
* Actively participate in joint initiatives, projects and activities; and, 
* Identify and address common areas of concern that may emerge during the life of the MOU. 

An Executive Committee will also be established consisting of the senior leadership team from both the City and VIU. The MOU is effective as of Monday, April 19, 2021 until December 31, 2023. 


"Nanaimo is fortunate to have a university that offers programs ranging from graduate and undergraduate degrees to vocational and trades diplomas and certificates, as well as continuing education programs in health, education, sciences, arts, business, trades, leadership, leisure, community planning, education and so much more. Tapping into this wealth of knowledge and innovation can benefit the community and position the City for a brighter future." 

**Leonard Krog, Mayor, City of Nanaimo** 

"I’m excited to expand on the already strong relationship VIU has with the City of Nanaimo to share ideas and collaborate on projects to aid in our economic and social recovery. We are a university built by and for the community, and partnerships like this one are woven into the fabric of everything we do. I look forward to broadening the number of initiatives we collaborate on to address the social, economic and environmental challenges of our region."

**Dr. Deborah Saucier, President and Vice-Chancellor, VIU**

VIU students find creative ways to support children and families during Covid pandemic

Fourth-year VIU CYC student Alexis Comeau

Over the years, students in Vancouver Island University’s Child and Youth Care (CYC) program have built strong connections with community agencies that help children, youth and families who are dealing with challenges or obstacles to healthy living.

“Field experience is an integral part of the program, but COVID-19 put a halt to in-person practicum opportunities, where students gain workplace skills,” says Cheryl Cameron, VIU CYC Practicum Coordinator. “The students grappled with the loss of those unique personal involvements, but they came together and found ways to mobilize and make things happen despite the pandemic.”

Working alongside community agencies across Vancouver Island and even one in North Carolina, six teams consisting of five students each turned their ideas into a variety of activities and initiatives tailored to the specific needs of the organizations and the people they support.

A youth being supported by Nanaimo and Area Resource Services for Families (NARSF) expressed a love for making music. Fourth-year student Alexis Comeau connected them with an individual in Nanaimo who taught them how to create music in a studio setting.  

“We were able to present them with an opportunity they may not otherwise have had, and it helped them with making goals and feeling successful,” she says.

Fourth-year student Nathan Lowe has worked in child and aboriginal services agencies for the past 10 years, including this past year at Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services in Nanaimo, while studying at VIU. He says working through the pandemic restrictions has broadened his connections with other agencies and his knowledge of the services they provide. It also presented him with an opportunity to bridge Indigenous perspectives with their work experience partner NARSF. 

“I will facilitate a workshop on emotional regulation for the youth at NARSF and that will ladder into a person taking the youth on a medicine walk to harvest the ingredients to make a tea that is good for individuals in recovery. They will also talk about spiritual wellness,” says Lowe.

NARSF Program Manager Cara May says despite the unique challenges for innovative engagement this past year, collaborations with the CYC practicum team have provided meaningful program development for their youth programs, including the Transitions Substance Use Skills Based Day Program.

“Thanks to the knowledge and resources shared by students, we were able to incorporate their ideas for weekly outdoor programming, music workshops, Indigenous teachings, art activities and much more,” she says. “At NARSF Programs we provide space for the implementation of theory to practice and we are grateful for the opportunity to work alongside students as they find real-world applications of best practices.” 

 Lowe and Comeau both say the transition to an online learning format and practicum has been difficult and often left them feeling exhausted and somewhat defeated. 

“Despite my initial resistance and frustration, being able to engage weekly with each other over Zoom has been rewarding in a very different way than I was expecting,” says Comeau. “It created a broader support network among our groups and with our mentors and it forced us to be creative in our efforts to make a difference in the lives of the youth these programs support.” 

“What’s important to me is to deliver something that speaks to integrity and follow through,” says Lowe. “I think that’s what the youth need at this point in their lives, some regularity in these times right now, something that they know that they can rely on. And I think NARSF does a good job of making sure that the youth are getting what they need, and it feels good to be a part of that.”

To learn more about this unique course, come to the next Child and Youth Care Information Session, which takes place on Wednesday, March 17.


VIU alumnus makes impact through endowment awards

Friends, family and community members are remembering Micah Messent through three awards that honour two of his passions – education and the environment. – VIU photo

0308 - Three Indigenous students will have their financial burdens eased a little each year in the name of Micah Messent, a Vancouver Island University (VIU) graduate who lost his life in a tragic crash two years ago.

Messent, who graduated from Georges P. Vanier School in Courtenay in 2013 and VIU in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous/Xwulmuxw Studies, was on his way to the United Nations Environmental Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, on March 10, 2019, when the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 plane he was on crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all passengers aboard. He was 23 years old.

Following his death, friends and family established an endowment fund through the VIU Foundation to support future students and ensure his name and memory live on. Donations continue to come into the fund, which has grown from supporting one annual award per year to three. The endowment will also support an annual event for Indigenous learners at VIU that will encourage them to follow their dreams.  

“The ability of this fund to support future students on their paths to success gives our family a level of comfort to know that Micah will continue to inspire others and make a difference for generations to come,” says Suzanne Camp, Messent’s mother. “In life, Micah had looked to the future and talked about the time when he would be able to support other students in reaching their educational goals. The yearly awards will honour his memory and intentions even as we continue to grieve his death.”

After graduating from VIU, Messent, who has Métis heritage on his mother’s side, worked for BC Parks’ Aboriginal Youth Internship Program, travelling to various parks across the province to lead cultural awareness workshops for BC Parks employees. He planned to return to school to pursue a degree in Indigenous law. Camp says it was important to him that people knew the history and treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada – history he learned more fully while at VIU. 

“As well, the friends he made, the Indigenous connections and the feeling of community at VIU supported his experience and added to the success he achieved upon graduation,” remembers Camp.

The three awards honour two of Messent’s passions – education and the environment. The Micah Messent Memorial Geography Award, the Micah Messent Memorial Indigenous Award and Micah Messent Memorial Environment Award will be available annually to Indigenous students attending VIU, with various criteria attached to each one.

Island universities partner on tourism marketing

CONNECT will bring together tourism industry professionals, students and employers to network and discuss the future of the industry.

CONNECT, which aims to build connections between employers, industry professionals, students and faculty, takes place March 3 from 3-5 pm. 

 February 10, 2021

Vancouver Island University (VIU) and North Island College (NIC) are partnering with Tourism Vancouver Island (TVI) for an engaging, informative and interactive virtual networking event.

CONNECT will take place Wednesday, March 3 from 3-5 pm. The goal of the event is to build connections between employers, industry professionals, students and faculty, while bringing together key stakeholders in the industry to share up-to-date information on research, support programs and the future of tourism on Vancouver Island.

“Tourism as a vital part of the Vancouver Island economy is being severely shaken through the pandemic,” said Dave Pinel, NIC coordinator, adventure guiding and Indigenous ecotourism. “I’ve been impressed by the long-term vision and values-based leadership of Tourism Vancouver Island for supporting immediate sector needs while positioning where and how we land on our feet and recover with shared intention. I welcome this event as a chance to connect tourism students with respected industry partners while together learning and contributing to some of the TVI initiatives for destination recovery, development, and management in ways that work well for visitors and residents.”  

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on Vancouver Island’s tourism industry. As tourism operators, organizations, First Nations and governments work to ensure the industry’s recovery, it is becoming clear that the pandemic will leave lasting changes.

The past year has brought immense challenges to Vancouver Island’s tourism industry,” said Calum Matthews, Director of Destination Development at Tourism Vancouver Island. “Together we will get through this and rebuild towards a more sustainable and balanced tourism economy that ensures ample space for businesses, communities and ecosystems to thrive.”

The CONNECT event will be split into two different parts. Part 1 will bring together industry stakeholders with a presentation from Matthews that will highlight ongoing efforts to ensure the industry’s recovery while discussing the future of tourism on Vancouver Island, followed by an open Q&A from industry partners and professionals. Part 2 is a networking component to facilitate introductions, conversations and create connections between students and industry partners. 

“Collaboration and connection are critical in supporting both employers and students in this time of economic recovery, as VIU and NIC have discovered through our partnership to create the Vancouver Island Work-Integrated Learning (VIWIL) hub,” said Brittany Parker, Interim Director for VIU’s Centre for Experiential Learning. “While there is still so much uncertainty for the tourism and hospitality industries this summer, we feel that connecting talented students with industry will lead to employer needs being met, and additional opportunities for sudents.”

The VIWIL hub is a free service for all tourism and hospitality operators and employers to use to connect with student talent from both NIC and VIU. 

Registration for the event is open now. Visit VIU’s CONNECT webpage or NIC CONNECT for more information.


VIU alumnus starts award for single mothers

Receiving financial help changed Kyla Hanington’s life and the lives of her children when she was at university; now she wants to give back to families in similar situations.

 Tuesday, February 9, 2021

There were many times when Kyla Hanington was close to giving up on her university education.

Every time this happened, the single mother of two received a timely scholarship, bursary or award that served as encouragement, as “a promise that it was okay to keep going, that I was doing the right thing.” 

These “gifts of hope” encouraged the Vancouver Island University (VIU) alum, who now lives in Maryland, to start her own award for single mothers at her alma mater.

“Scholarships change lives. My life changed and the lives and the trajectories of both my children changed because of my VIU degree,” she says. “This is my opportunity to provide some hope and encouragement to another family.” 

Hanington’s post-secondary journey began with a desire to make a better life for her family. In 2005, she moved to the Island from Maryland with her two young kids, $300 cash and all of her possessions in a green suitcase after her relationship ended with her children’s father. 

Suffering loss and a high degree of anxiety over the uncertainty of her situation, Hanington dealt with the stress by drinking too much. Over time, she stopped drinking and found a steady, albeit low-paying job, but was laid off when the company closed during the 2008 recession. Then she turned her mind to education.

“My fear of failure and sense of being less capable than others almost stopped me from applying, but I realized I owed my children more than a hand-to-mouth existence,” she says.  

Hanington started her Bachelor of Arts degree at age 35, when her children were five and nine.

“We were quite poor at the time – eventually foreclosed on, in fact – and it was a struggle in many ways,” she recalls. “I was so close to quitting time and time again because of the immense financial pressure. I wondered at times if it was selfish to continue – not everyone does, often people go get low-paying jobs that don’t require university education because we need to support our families – and so was I doing the wrong thing by working so hard in pursuit of a degree?”

Thankfully, every time she had these thoughts, Hanington would receive a call from VIU’s Financial Aid & Awards department letting her know that she earned a scholarship or award that would keep her going. 

“They were reassurances that I was doing the right thing, like stepping-stones to work my way across,” she recalls. “Maybe I should quit, but not this semester.”


Hanington graduated in 2012 and immediately got a job with the provincial government’s Family Justice Services Division as an interviewer with the Justice Access Centre. She then took a position in Terrace as a family justice counsellor, and became a certified family mediator through that position, doing additional training at the Justice Institute of British Columbia.

After reconnecting with and then marrying an old friend from Maryland, Hanington moved back to the United States in 2015 to join her husband, where she now works as the outreach coordinator and public information officer at Prince George County’s Human Relations Commission. In this position she creates and delivers anti-hate, anti-bias programming and creates community conversations that build increased understanding among diverse peoples. 

She also hasn’t stopped furthering her education. Hanington finished a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Mississippi University for Women in 2020 and is working on her Master of Arts in Human Rights through the University of London (UK).

She decided now was a good time to give back to VIU – the school that did so much for her when she was at her lowest point – by starting the Kyla Hanington Award for Single Mothers. The annual award gives out one $1,000 tuition credit to a female student who is single parenting – like Hanington was doing when she attended VIU. She wants others to have the same transformational experience she had – and the ripple effects of that education. 

“I think the most significant impact is looking at where my kids are at now,” says Hanington. “They saw their mom really struggle, they came to class with me and when I feared I couldn’t keep going, they sang me encouraging songs. Now my oldest is about to graduate Summa Cum Laude with a BA in Film from Hollins University in Virginia, and my youngest is about to graduate from high school and has been accepted into all six of the universities she applied to. My story isn’t so much about me, it’s about how me going back to school as a mature student set a course for my children, too. We all want to launch our children from the best-possible platform, and here is where VIU brought my family.” 

If you wish to support Hanington’s award for single mothers, visit, select “other” in the drop-down section and enter “Kyla Hanington Award” in the text box. Anyone interested in learning more about supporting students through scholarships, awards, or bursaries can visit the VIU Donors homepage or call VIU’s Annual Giving Manager, Dave Forrester, at 250.618.1319.

VIU baking program rises to the next level

VIU Baking and Pastry Arts students making fruit tarts.
/Vancouver Island University photo

Bakers who want to start their own specialty business or take on commercial management roles can learn the skills they need at new program being offered at VIU.

February 9, 2021

Students who love baking and are ready to take the next step toward becoming a professional baker or even selling their own delicious creations can take a new diploma program starting in August 2021 at Vancouver Island University (VIU).

“Many of our graduates from the baking certificate program go on to start their own businesses,” says Rita Gower, Chair, Professional Baking and Pastry Arts. “That can be risky. It’s not enough to be really good at baking, you need a whole different skill set to thrive at being an entrepreneur.” 

The new two-year Baking and Pastry Arts Management (BPAM) Diploma program provides students with advanced bakery instruction and the business planning and financial management training needed to allow graduates to move successfully into administrative positions or start their own commercial ventures. 

“Having these additional skills opens up another level of opportunities for graduates,” says Gower. “We are seeing growth in the artisanal sector, with specialty bakeries that create custom cakes, breads and bagels, cheese making, ice-cream, condiments and more. People are looking for high-quality products made with the best ingredients that aren’t full of substances people can’t pronounce and are reflective of current trends such as gluten-free, organic or vegan.”

In the first year of the program, students learn the fundamentals of baking, safe operation of commercial kitchen appliances, efficient food production practices, pastry making, advanced breadmaking techniques, how to create stunning wedding cakes, baking in a wood-fired brick oven, and the knowledge and techniques for working with chocolate. 

In year two, students will take advanced pastry courses, providing them with level two technical training towards a baker Red Seal certification. They will also plan and open a pop-up bakery and take a number of business courses that give them skills crucial to managing a kitchen or business, including human resource administration, accounting and marketing through VIU’s Department of Hospitality Management. Students in both the first and second year of the program also participate in a paid 10-week cooperative work placement, often leading to successful career placement.

Every year, highly skilled bakers are brought in as guest teachers to share their knowledge and techniques with VIU instructors and students.

Students and alumni of the baking program have an opportunity every two years to participate in a 16-day European field school excursion to Paris and Brussels touring professional baking facilities, partaking in numerous hands-on workshops and attending a five-day baking show, giving them exposure to international trends in their field. 

The baking program has been popular with students from across Canada and for the first time will be open to international students. VIU’s Culinary Arts program has been accepting international students for several years.

Completion of the diploma also provides students with advanced credit when applying to the VIU Bachelor of Hospitality Management degree. 

“We are excited to offer this comprehensive program,” says Gower. “We are responding to industry demand for competent graduates who are ready to start working in commercial kitchens, and we listened to what our students are saying they need to embrace rising into a management position or operating their own business and becoming the trainers and baking mentors of the future.” 


Photo Caption: VIU Baking and Pastry Arts students making fruit tarts. Photo Credit: Vancouver Island University


VIU sutdent joins national advisory committee

Felicia Fischer

0129 – A Vancouver Island University (VIU) student will have the chance to weigh in on collaborative sustainable development initiatives taking place at institutions across Canada and make sure students are involved in them.

Felicia Fischer, a second-year Master of Community Planning student, has been selected to join the ImpAct Student and Alumni Advisory Committee (ISAAC). ImpAct was launched in Spring 2019 by Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) to advance social, economic and environmental well-being. The initiative, which uses the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework, focuses on three collaborative projects that aim to reduce barriers to inclusive access, promote social entrepreneurship, and improve campus sustainability. ISAAC, which meets once a month, provides strategic input and guidance into initiatives arising from these three working groups. 

“We provide student perspectives and a diversity of experiences to the work,” explains Fischer.

“The SDGs offer valuable guidelines to help tackle some of the most pressing challenges of our time and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity in a healthy environment,” says CICan president and CEO, Denise Amyot. “As community hubs, where education, innovation, and entrepreneurship converge, colleges and institutes are ideally placed to help Canada reach these goals. ImpAct will give us an opportunity to share best practices, but also develop projects that will have tangible results all across the country.” 

Pam Shaw, Director of VIU’s MCP program, is excited that the University will have representation on this national-level committee within CICan. 

“This is an important committee and students from VIU now have a voice and opportunity to contribute as change continues to evolve at a rapid pace for post-secondary institutions across Canada,” she says. “This is a well-deserved appointment and I know Felicia will be a wonderful contributor to this work.”

Fischer’s acceptance letter from CICan noted that while there were a record number of nominees, her application “stood out” and the selection committee believes she will bring a strong voice and solid experience to the collaborative work. 

“Pam suggested I apply because I’ve been both an undergraduate and a graduate student at VIU, and an international student who is transitioning to becoming a domestic student. She thinks having all of those different perspectives and experiences will help me make positive contributions,” says Fischer.

Fischer, who is half-German and half-Trinidadian, believes her background and experiences contributed to her successful application. Her father is a pilot and growing up she has lived all over the world, including Trinidad, Antigua, France, England, Scotland, Italy, Turkey and China. In 2015, Fischer moved to Canada from the UK, where she completed an International Baccalaureate Diploma, to start her undergraduate degree in Digital Media Studies at VIU. 

“I didn’t want to be student number 240 at the back left – I was looking for a smaller university,” she explains. “I also wanted to be close to Vancouver, which has a strong film industry – the industry I initially wanted to work in.” 

Fischer immediately got involved around campus, becoming a Peer Helper and then getting an internship position with the Faculty of International Education, through which she met some planning students who had just arrived from Belize on Queen Elizabeth Scholarships. When they talked about what they were doing in the planning program, Fischer was captivated. 

“In my media studies program, I was interested in digital communities and trying to understand how people are finding connections and building identity in virtual spaces like Minecraft and World of Warcraft,” she says. “My friend Eric explained to me the vital role planning has in building spaces that nurture people and social connections – or not 

Fischer’s ultimate goal is to work in a role where she can bridge the gap between members of the public who want to be involved and those making urban design decisions.  

“We are shaped by the buildings that surround us as much as they are shaped by us,” says Fischer. “Good planning and urban design can create an environment that brings out the best in us.”

Financial support for resilience research at VIU

VIU Nursing Professor Dr. Shannon Dames has received a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research award that will allow her to focus on development of a psychedelic-assisted mental health therapy program. ­­ VIU photo

SUMMARY: Support from BC’s health research funding agency will enable Dr. Shannon Dames to focus on further developing a resilience-focused, psychedelic-assisted mental health therapy program.

0126 – An innovative psychedelic medicine-assisted therapy and resilience training program developed by Vancouver Island University (VIU) Nursing Professor Dr. Shannon Dames and her team is proving to be very effective.

Dames and team have developed a program that delivers cutting-edge treatment to health-care providers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and treatment-resistant mental health complications such as depression, anxiety, trauma and emotional exhaustion. The first 12-week quality improvement trial, conducted in collaboration with Island Health, has yielded remarkable results.

“It is healing people who didn’t think they could be healed,” says Dames. “Our evaluation results show significant improvements. Of the 16 participants in the first quality improvement cohort, 11 screened positive for PTSD. All of the PTSD patients screened negative upon program completion, which is unheard of.” 

Additionally, out of 13 participants who also screened positive for generalized anxiety, 62% left screening negative, and 48% had significant clinical improvements. Of the 13 who screened positive for depression, 100% saw significant improvements in their scores. At the one-month follow up, seven patients were in remission and six patients showed a reduction in symptoms from moderate or severe to mild. 

To continue this promising research, Dames has been awarded $450,000 over five years from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) and the Lotte & John Hecht Memorial Foundation.

The funding will allow her to focus 75% of her time over the next five years to continuing with her research and improving the program. 

The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research is BC’s health research funding agency. The long-term Professional-Investigator awards support health professionals who are actively involved in patient care to conduct and apply research relevant to health and/or the health system.

“I am delighted at the support this initiative is receiving,” says Dames. “This award is a gift that will allow me the time to really focus on expanding access to these innovative and evidence-based therapies, which are sorely needed during this global health crisis.” 

The project is supported by a multidisciplinary team of health and research professionals and agencies, including the BC SUPPORT Unit Vancouver Island Centre, an initiative that supports patient-oriented research in the region; Island Health clinicians; VIU researchers; the University of Victoria (UVic); and the University of British Columbia (UBC). Dames is also collaborating with Island Health’s Research and Capacity Building department and the Ministry of Health’s Innovation Hub to develop the first publicly offered program in Canada that combines resilience-based communities of practice with ketamine-assisted therapy. Ketamine is currently the only legal medicine that produces psychedelic effects.

“The fact that Shannon received this prestigious award recognizes the exceptionally innovative research that her team is doing and the potential impact for health outcomes in BC,” says Dr. Nicole Vaugeois, Associate Vice-President of Scholarship, Research and Creative Activity at VIU. 

The research team is currently onboarding the second cohort of participants in the Roots To Thrive – Ketamine Assisted Therapy (RTT-KAT) treatment program. Long-term goals include creating an accredited psychedelic-assisted therapy training certificate program, which will be added to the VIU curriculum.


Photo Caption: VIU Nursing Professor Dr. Shannon Dames has received a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research award that will allow her to focus on development of a psychedelic-assisted mental health therapy program. ­­ Photo Credit: Vancouver Island University



VI University culinary arts student cooking for gold

Vancouver Island University

0107 – The day his parents opened Abbondanza, a restaurant in Ucluelet, BC, Ottis Crabbe knew he wanted to become a chef.

His path toward running his own commercial kitchen began last year when he signed up for Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Culinary Arts program, earning two awards in his first year. He will graduate with his Culinary Management diploma this spring.

Jason Lloyd, Chair of the VIU Culinary Arts program, says Crabbe’s passion for cooking and zeal for learning is what earned him a recommendation from instructors for a place on Junior Culinary Team Canada (JCTC).

“Ottis checked a lot of boxes as a strong contender for the team,” says Chef Jason Lloyd. “He showed up here on day one ready to go. He was always ‘Yes Chef, what can I do Chef?’ and volunteered for everything.”  

Crabbe joins eight other culinary students from across the country to represent Canada in the regional category at the oldest culinary competition in the world, the IKA/Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart, Germany, in 2024. Over the next four years, the team will train at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Vancouver under the guidance of Chef John Carlo Felicella, Manager of the Canadian youth team.

“I am very excited about Canada’s new Junior Culinary Team,” says Felicella. “One of the best things about working with and developing young cooks is the true gratification when you witness professional growth. Ottis very much fits the mold of what Junior Culinary Team Canada is all about – specifically his camaraderie, discipline, willingness to share and gain knowledge, and ability to have fun while achieving our end goal. Over the next four years I look forward to our journey together as a team to represent Canada at the Culinary Olympics.”

About 1,800 participants from 67 nations battled for an IKA/Culinary Olympic title in a variety of categories last February. The Youth Team Canada earned double gold and placed 4th in the world competing against 23 other junior national teams.

Crabbe has been honing his cooking skills at this family’s restaurant in Ucluelet and this past year he has been working at The Lakehouse at Shawnigan as a commis, which is an entry-level position where he worked under head chef Ryan Bissel and sous chef Julian Smith.

“It's extremely humbling to be chosen to represent Canada,” says Crabbe. “It is definitely a gateway for me to develop as a chef and it will open a lot of doors for me and opportunities to become better and reach my potential.”

After he graduates in April, Crabbe is planning to get his Red Seal Certificate for cooking and is contemplating pursuing one for professional baking as well. However, his main focus for the next few years will be training for the culinary Olympics.  

“No one is born being really, really good at culinary, it takes a lot of time and effort,” says Crabbe. “I’m willing to put in more work for the final payoff, and I am really excited to represent Canada.” 

Lloyd says Crabbe is the first VIU Culinary Arts student to be chosen for a place on Junior Culinary Team Canada since he began in 2011 and it will be a great experience for him.  

“It speaks to the level of instruction and training that students receive in the program,” adds Lloyd. “It means that when students leave here, they have the skills needed to enter the demanding and exciting world of culinary arts and can find meaningful work further developing their talents and will go on to become world-class chefs.”

Lloyd has worked in some of Canada’s top kitchens and has entered and won many competitions, including top apprentice in Canada in 1996. 

“The people I learned from are now the judges and the mentors for our students in these world-class competitions, and who knows, perhaps one day I’ll get to that point and then the students can work their way up to that level too.”

You can experience university life online in January

0104 – While the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that much of the teaching and learning activities at Vancouver Island University (VIU) are happening online this year, that isn’t stopping the University from hosting its open house events for prospective students.

This January, VIU is rolling Discovery Days, the University’s biggest on-campus event for high school students, and Experience VIU, an event for anyone in the community interested in checking out campus life, into three interactive, virtual days of exploration and discovery. These informative and fun drop-in events will include chances to chat one-on-one with recruiters and educational advisors who can answer your questions about programs, student resources and how to pay for school; videos (including our Chemistry department’s explosive experiments video); downloadable resources; and fun games to help you get to know VIU. Participants can enter to win a range of prizes and VIU swag, including three $1,000 tuition credit prizes for domestic students.

Hosting the event online allows people to participate from wherever they are in the world, while the live chats allow prospective students to get their specific questions answered. The three events take place at different times of the day so people can attend from school, on a break at work, on the weekend or in the evening. Drop in anytime on the following days, between these times:

  • Saturday, January 16 from 9 am to 2 pm
  • Wednesday, January 20 from 1 pm to 6:30 pm
  • Thursday, January 21 from 1 pm to 6:30 pm

These informal events are for anyone interested in learning more about post-secondary and how VIU can help you achieve your career goals, from high school students and their parents, to those who have been out of school for a while and are ready to explore their options.

International students will be able to learn more about what it’s like to live on Vancouver Island, accommodation options, immigration, admission requirements and more. Our Services for Aboriginal Students staff will be there as well for those who want to learn more about the Indigenous community at VIU and supports for Indigenous students.

Check out this video featuring VIU Recruiter Dylan Ewen to learn more, or visit the Experience VIU registration page to sign up.